I met Phurba Lama today. He is a Buddhist lama (lama is the Tibetan word for monk) that owns a Tibetan store right on Thompson Street and West 3rd, two blocks away from my apartment and across the street from the laundromat I normally go to. His parents and sisters live in Nepal and he supports them with earnings from his little Manhattan shop. While the storefront is small and obscure from the outside, as soon as you walk in it is a feast for the eyes with colorful prayer beads hanging on the walls, bronze and gold statues sparkling on the shelves, intricate paintings, handmade jewelry and more. As I perused the store, I struck up a conversation with Phurba and within minutes I was receiving teachings from a lama who spent 17 years in a monastery in Nepal (enrolling at 7 and leaving at 24). I said, he must have learned so much in the years he spent there! He laughed and replied, absolutely not, only a speck of what the Buddha left in his vast teachings (which he said are an upwards of 80,000). I told him I was happy to hear this, only because I feel overwhelmed by how much there is to learn and can’t fathom how I will ever be able to learn it all. I excitedly took notes of our discussion on my iPhone because everything he said sounded like a gem tumbling out and bouncing off his lips. I desperately wanted to catch them in a satin bag and keep them forever. He didn’t mind and said the greatest charity you can give is a teaching that can be reflected upon. Here is some of his insight, in my own words:
- The quest for external happiness will not get you very far, but the quest for internal happiness will take you into great depths and will be a long, long road to follow.
- We are all here to help and serve one another; at the end of the day we are all brothers and sisters, no matter what race or political party, because we are essentially all on the same boat. We all want to experience happiness, sustain happiness, and cease our suffering.
- There is nothing to be anxious about. (He asked, what are you anxious about? And then replied no, no, no to everything I said. )
- You can find peace anywhere, no matter where you are living or who you are living amongst. You can achieve the same level of peace in New York that you can in deep in the Himalayas on a month long retreat.
- Make your religion and daily aspirations be about KINDNESS.
- If you don’t have an enemy then what will you practice? You can’t believe that you can get rid of anger, anxiety, fear, greed, shame, etc. These things arise and exist, and oftentimes aren’t presently being experienced. But when they are present, you have to use them as though they are a teaching and simply encouraging you to put into practice what you have learned.
- Believe in karma. Help and honor your parents and then your children will help and honor you.
I spent an hour with Phurba and couldn’t help (as ever!) to notice his beautiful gold Ganesh statue on the counter, as well as a set of stone prayer beads hanging to the right. Ganesh is often prayed to or evoked in mantras as a way to overcome obstacles and invite prosperity. He is, in a sense, the “remover” of obstacles. In praying to Ganesh, chanting about Ganesh, or simply meditating on him, we ourselves can become our own version of him and feel the wisdom and power to be our own problem solver. Like Phurba said, don’t ask anyone, just follow your heart and go with it. No one has the right answer for you, except you yourself. There are a myriad of other symbolic features found in the representation of Ganesh, but that can be discussed further in a separate post which I look forward to writing. The prayer beads, he showed me, had the Buddha’s mantra carved in them: Om Mani Padme Hum. This mantra is normally recited over and over as a means of embodying compassion, which was Buddha’s greatest teaching. The beads and golden Ganesh were just too wonderful to pass up on… somehow I find myself buying things from Nepal just a day before I actually am traveling there! Either way, it was an auspicious day and I wanted to have something special to remember it by.